Throwback Thursday: Depeche Mode Interview from 2009
Jul 17, 2014
Photography by Crackerfarm Issue #26 Spring 2009 - Bat For Lashes
For Throwback Thursdays we are posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren't to be found on our website. For this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2009 article on Depeche Mode. Read on as Dave Gahan and Andrew Fletcher discusses their 2009 album The Sounds of the Universe, their classic album Violator, their legacy, and Martin Gore's triumph over addiction.
"Violator, that was our time," says Depeche Mode's multi-instrumentalist Andrew "Fletch" Fletcher. "Every big band has their time. Coldplay is having theirs right now. To be honest, we actually play to more people now than we played to when Violator was out. I still think Violator is our best album but I also think the other albums aren't too far behind. We're very realistic for a band in our position. We do okay, and for a band that's been around for a long time, I feel we're still quite relevant."
It's hard to believe that next year Depeche Mode's quintessential masterpiece, Violator, will turn 20 years old. As the album that launched Depeche Mode into the stratosphere of superstardom, Violator stands as a testament not only to Depeche Mode's massive popularity, but also their relentless experimentation. Barring the underrated tour de force that was 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion, the group spent the better part of the '90s and early 2000s struggling to find their voice as a three-piece after multi-instrumentalist Alan Wilde left. After two lackluster albums, the relevance of Depeche Mode came under scrutiny. Then, in 2005, the band made a triumphant return to form with Playing the Angel, an album that distilled all the best aspects of Depeche Mode's varied musical past and mixed them with their signature experimentalism. The album marked the first time vocalist Dave Gahan contributed to the writing, and all his tracks held up surprisingly well to those of core songwriter Martin Gore. Revitalized, the band wasted no time getting back into the studio to record the follow-up, Sounds of the Universe, the most densely experimental and by far the darkest Depeche Mode album since the early '90s. Sounds of the Universe stands as the most difficult and meticulously constructed album of Depeche Mode's career, curiously steering clear of the huge stadium anthems found on Violator and even Playing the Angel. Yet, according to Depeche Mode, the journeys to making Violator and Sounds of the Universe weren't all that much different.
"What really drove me was, first of all, to prove to you and everybody else that we were a force to be reckoned with," vocalist Dave Gahan says regarding the creation of Violator. "That we were important and had just as much right to be here as your U2s or whoever were the critics darlings at the time. I think we always felt we were somehow slighted in that way. When we were making Violator, even though we had no idea what the success of that album was going to be after we released it, there was definitely a feeling of breaking new ground. Alan Wilde had really come into his own as far as being a part of the band. There were all of these different elements. Plus we were younger and we went to all these different places to record and we hung out together all the time, went out together, you know, had a lot of fun. And most of all, we worked as a team. I think that happened with this record as well. It seemed to me everybody showed up to get the job done and to give their all in the time we had to make this record. That doesn't always happen. You really don't know until halfway through the record. Sometimes it's because you're exploring something new with somebody new and you're not quite sure where you want to take the sound. Sometimes it's because outside personal things are going on that distract you."
After Playing the Angel received a warm critical and commercial reception, things in the Depeche Mode camp once again began to shift. Imbued with a new confidence after releasing two solo albums, Gahan began contributing even more to the songwriting and production aspects of the new material, taking some of the creative burden off Gore. Yet it was Gore, long considered the quiet backbone of the band, who changed the most during the session. After battling drug and alcohol addiction off and on throughout his career, Gore finally stayed clean, with Sounds of the Universe standing as his first album recorded completely sober. "When he was drinking quite heavily on the last album and he was less prolific, I'd say Dave helped him out quite a bit," admits Fletcher. "It's been three years now [since Gore's sobriety] and he's found writing a lot easier."
"Martin has been the best he's been in the studio as far as productivity, and showing up, and willing to go the distance whether it was for his songs or for my songs," elaborates Gahan. "To really show up and experiment with different ideas and different parts and trying a different guitar part or coming up with a different vocal part. I think we got a little lazy to be honest, over the last few records. I think we got a little lazy with layering harmonies and trying new things. There were songs on this album where I could immediately hear different vocal things going, some of that old school Depeche Mode vocal harmonizing."
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Sounds of the Universe is the vocal interplay between Gore and Gahan. Although the two have always harmonized to a certain degree, most tracks on Sounds of the Universe feature the two vocalists harmonizing throughout a track's entirety, something Depeche Mode had rarely done in the past. A track like "Peace" is based around layers upon layers of Gore's and Gahan's intertwined vocals. "When Martin played it to me for the first time I turned around and said, 'I think that's one of the best songs you've ever written,'" says a flabbergasted Gahan. "Even in the demo form it was apparent that it was so full of melody, I thought it was just beautiful. Sometimes I don't know where he comes up with this stuff to be honest."
Despite revisiting and expounding upon some traditional Depeche Mode formulas, such as using analogue synthesizers, complex vocal harmonies, and strong melodies, Sounds of the Universe is the sound of a band moving into more adventurous territory. It's doubtful the album will net the level of success and popularity of Violator. But if you're Depeche Mode, that's not the point. According to Gahan, the band isn't capable of rehashing a bygone era.
"It's just not something we would be able to do with any real sincerity," he says. "I think it would show immediately. You would know immediately and I think you wouldn't get a chance to hear it because I'm pretty sure Martin and I would turn around to each other and say, 'I think we're done.' Thankfully I don't think this a record where you can turn around and say, 'I think they're done.' I felt we were pushing some of the ideas we had learned from each other and other people over the years and we were pushing them to a different place, to broaden the feel of what we've done before. There is definitely a feel of, to me anyway when I listen to the album, something I want to keep listening to, to see what's coming next."
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